Stop telling me to euthanize my dog

picture of Lexi

This is Lexi. She’s a 13-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and she’s been with me since she was six weeks old. We’ve done everything together, from climb mountains in Maine to just hanging out at coffee shops in Pittsburgh.

People keep telling me I should euthanize her, and this is not okay.

About a year ago Lexi was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a progressive spinal cord disease that works similarly to ALS in people. She no longer has any function of her hind legs, and her bladder and bowl control continue to weaken.

As you can imagine, this is a frustrating and upsetting prospect. Watching your best friend deteriorate from an active, mobile, sprightly 11 to being forced to drag herself around at 13 is not fun or pleasant in any way. These days I clean up a lot of messes, and have to wipe Lexi down frequently to avoid urine scald. She doesn’t always make it through the night without having to go outside anymore, and since D.J. is a lighter sleeper than I am, he’s usually the one to take her out at 2 a.m.

This, apparently, is enough of a reason to end a dog’s life. And in some cases, yes, it probably is. But if you are not there, if you do not see what goes on, if you’ve never even met my dog, it is not appropriate for you to suggest end of life decisions.

Her body is failing her, but she’s still my Lexi. She still chomps merrily on elk antlers, viciously attacks the Chuck-it, tries to sneakily eat All the Food, barks at everything that moves and many things that do not, and nudges me when she wants my attention. She can’t jump up on the couch anymore, but that’s okay because I can just put her up there until she wants to get down. She whines to let me know she needs to go out or to tell me she’s thirsty. Most importantly, she’s not in pain, at least not beyond the normal old lady aches.

I see her get frustrated often, but she knows that D.J. and I will be there to help her with whatever she needs. Storms and loud noises make her anxious now when they never used to, but calms down if I hold her or sit with her on the couch. We’ve all adapted to this new normal, as crappy as it may be. We’re under no delusions that Lexi will get better or that she at least won’t get worse. We know she will. We see it, day to day. It’s a gradual process, but its effects are undeniable and heartbreaking.

But what’s worse than dealing with Lexi’s DM is the constant comments about euthanizing her. “Why don’t you just…?” or “Well she’s lived a full life, maybe it’s time?” or “Have you ever thought about putting her out of her misery?”

Yes, watching her struggle is frustrating and upsetting. But she is not miserable. It’s true that DM has given us a count down: We’ve got roughly a year before she can no longer move her front legs. At that point we’ll start running into health complications like bed sores and pneumonia.

This isn’t a matter of convenience to me. This is my dog, my companion, my best friend. I’m not going to euthanize her because I have to clean pee up every day, or even twice a day. When her quality of life deteriorates, when she can no longer drag herself around or switch positions, when she is no longer happy a majority of the time–that’s when we’ll have to make that decision.

That knowledge, the inevitability of it, looms large in my mind every day. We know the end is coming. I reckon with it nightly as I’m drifting off to sleep. But the end isn’t here, not yet. This corgi still has joie de vivre, and I will treasure every day we have together from now until the day I do have to make that decision.

So please, stop telling me I should euthanize my dog. It’s not helpful. It’s exactly the opposite of helpful. D.J. and I are here with her, every day, making sure her final years are as happy and joyful as they can be. You aren’t. You don’t get to decide.

Sunset walk in the rain

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on July 76, 2012, on my blog of the same name.

The city always seems quieter in the rain, except for the cars splashing down the streets. Everything is hushed, subdued, like the rain is pushing it down, dampening it.

Last night we had no choice but to walk in a steady, post-thunderstorm shower. Our dogs needed to go out and we have no yard. Normally on our evening walks my husband, D.J., and I talk about our days, our plans, books we’re reading, New Yorker articles. Last night we walked in a comfortable silence. After a rough week migraine-wise for both of us, being together was enough; we didn’t have to say anything.

I listened to the soft, erratic plat, plat, plat, of heavy rain drops on the hood of my jacket. Through breaks in the clouds I could see the sky, still glowing with the last bits of sunlight, a smokey blue. Reflected light from downtown skyscrapers and street lamps illuminated the low-hanging clouds in a golden yellow. As we entered the park, I caught a glimpse of the sunset in the distance: deep orange and red on the western horizon, beyond the rain.

My 18-month-old German shepherd puppy bounded along the path, pouncing on a stick and carrying it proudly for awhile before abandoning it for another one. My Welsh corgi scampered in a straight line ahead of me, intent on walking, smelling, and marking her territory as much as possible.

Here was beauty — in the rain, the sunset, lights reflected in puddles — and here was love — my husband and dogs beside me. My head hurt, yes, but it didn’t matter. Like the city, the rain made my headache seem quieter, subdued. So I let the rain soak into me, pick up my worries and my fears, and carry them away.

 

My dogs are not my children

Lately I’ve been thinking about metaphors. Specifically metaphors like, “My pets are my children,” or “My writing is my baby.”

I can understand, almost, why people use these metaphors. Having children is a monumental step that reorders your entire life. Your world basically revolves around your children, because they need you to survive. Plus, they carry your genetic code and are, in a very real sense, a part of you.

Saying, “My pets are my children” is, I think, mostly an attempt to say, “My pets are as important to me as your children are to you.”

puppies

Lexi and Jaina. They leave fur everywhere, but I love them anyway.

But I don’t see my dogs (or my writing) as “children,” and several things about comparing them to children bothers me.

It’s an easy metaphor, one that most people can understand, but it implies that important things like pets, art, etc., are intrinsically not as important or worthy as children of time and attention, and that pets are simply replacements for human children.

Plenty of parents also have pets. You rarely hear them say “My pets are my babies!” And yet, I’d be willing to wager those pets play an equally important, albeit very different, role in family life.

Growing up, that was my experience. We had a dog, a German shepherd/border collie mix, who was my constant companion. We played together, went for walks together, even sat on the couch and watched TV together. We all loved him immensely, and he was, without a doubt, a part of our family.

But my parents never referred to Maverick as one of their “children.” My brother and I were the children, and Maverick was the dog.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling a dog a dog. That’s what they are. Their dog-ness is why we love them. If dogs were strictly replacement children for people unable or unwilling to have children, you’d probably see a lot fewer human children with doggy companions.

Dogs make excellent companions because of their emotional intelligence and their ability to read body language and smell pain and illness. Children are naturally intuitive, but I’ve never met a human who could read another person as well as a dog can.

Dogs often know what we’re feeling physically and emotionally before we have any idea ourselves—and this is partly why many dogs bond so easily with children, I think. There’s no need for the child to verbalize her emotions, because the dog just knows, and is there with a nuzzling wet nose or a long drippy tongue to the face.

Even now that my brother and I are grown and my parents have turned into crazy German shepherd people (they have four), they do not make comparisons between their actual human children and their dogs. My mother doesn’t ignore me because she has her furry children to keep her company.

It’s essentially the same with writing. My writing is not my baby, it’s my writing. It may be work in the same sense that raising children is work, but it is very, very different work. Yes, it’s hugely important to me, but if I ever got struck by lightning and suddenly decided I wanted children, I’m guessing the human babies would be an entirely different kind of important.

Ultimately, my point is that dogs play a large and important role in my life, and so does creating art. Neither my dogs nor my writing is a replacement for not having children. They are rewarding in their own rights, and fill very different emotional and mental needs than children do (I imagine, as I don’t actually feel any desire to have children).

My dogs are not my children. They are my dogs, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.